When the job vacancy numbers for the end of Q2 were released, they really weren’t all that surprising. Anyone delivering construction projects this summer could have offered the same insights: vacancies were up and prospective workers were as scarce as hens’ teeth.
For Saskatchewan, the number of jobs going unfilled at the end of June had virtually doubled from the days prior to the pandemic declaration, going from 2.2 per cent to 4.2 per cent. And that was actually one of the better news stories in the country. B.C., for example, hit six per cent.
So, where have all the workers gone?
Experts are scrambling to answer that question, offering up a variety of explanations ranging from post-pandemic life reassessments to simply catching up, as people who had postponed retirement when COVID surfaced now deciding to depart the workforce permanently.
Signs of this development may well have been evident prior to COVID but the pandemic magnified or amplified them. The arrival of asset-sharing firms such as Uber or SkipTheDishes not only addressed a consumer need; it also filled a void for workers eschewing the traditional bond between employer and employee in favour of the so-called “gig” arrangement, where the worker can pick and choose assignments on a piecework basis rather than on a shiftwork structure.
Could it be that vacancies are nothing more than an outdated methodology for measuring labour availability? Is the traditional worker-employer relationship seeing its first cracks?
There are reasons to come to this conclusion from both perspectives. For the worker, we have been told repeatedly that today’s employee favours flexibility over pay, while employers are increasingly under pressure to raise wages (consider all the debate over a $15 an hour minimum wage, for example). Payroll-loading – CPP, EI, WCB, benefits, etc. – is unabated or accelerating, causing employers to question whether they actually want to formalize an employee-employer relationship when the “gig” concept is gaining acceptance.
And the other factor at play, one that will no doubt help employers, is immigration. Largely suspended during COVID, it is reasonable to assume we will restore the flow of international migration, a development that will offer some relief.
But none of these addresses the primary underlying question for a province like Saskatchewan. In simple terms, we don’t have enough people. Population growth should become one of the most important issues to ensure we not only have enough people to fill the jobs our economy is creating, but to enhance our political clout on the national stage as well.